Sunday: We had originally scheduled a departure for today, but both Tracy & I felt a bit under the weather, so we decided to stay and fully recuperate prior to leaving. Barry & Carol borrowed the Bristow’s vehicle, so we tagged along with them and did some Publix and WalMart shopping. We didn’t need to go full bore, we just wanted to add some small items prior to leaving and Tracy was looking for some hobby type kits for keeping busy when underway.
After our shopping spree, we returned to the marina and spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing for tomorrow’s departure while Barry & Carol were thinking about staying for another day. We learned from Bill & Bobbie that a great Gold Looper friend of theirs who has a dirt house here in Palm Coast has invited us over to her house for homemade pizza and docktails! So we all pile into the Bristow’s car and take the short drive over the bridge to Susan’s house. Her husband is up in Buffalo, NY preparing their vessel for spring cruising while Susan stays in Florida with their Portuguese Water Dog (and stays much warmer than him!). Her pizza’s are spectacular while Tracy makes her delicious crab puffs and Bobbie makes a full garden salad.
Upon our return to the marina, we make arrangements to depart tomorrow morning and Bill & Bobbie say they’ll be over to help us shove off. This marina has been spectacular as far as economics and amenities and we definitely are considering putting this marina on our short list for future snowbird trips to Florida.
Monday: It’s another beautiful morning on the Florida coast and when I go out to walk Frankie for the morning, I find out that Barry and Carol have decided to leave today also and join us on the cruise to St Augustine. They will stay in the St Augustine City Mooring Field next to the famous Bridge of Lions while we will cruise past the St Augustine Inlet and turn into Camachee Cove Marina. This will be a short and easy 24 nautical mile cruise with some slow Manatee zones but no bridges to open. So after Bill & Bobbie arrive at 10:15am to assist us with our lines and say goodbyes (for now), we are pulling away from the docks at 10:30am and following in Wild Goose’s wake as they lead the way today.
We’re followed by the usual dolphin show(s) and an occasional ray taking a fantastic leap out of the water and splashing back down. This show is virtually impossible to catch on video, however they are truly spectacular when they leap completely out of the water, then splash back down a mere second later. It’s fun to watch for obstructions, other vessels, bridges, buoys, channel markers, dolphins and rays all at the same time. The time at the helm really passes by rather quickly.
Exactly 3 hours ofter departure, we are radioing Wild Goose as they turn into the mooring field and we continue into our marina. Camachee Cove Marina is familiar to Tracy as she stopped here three years ago with Geoff and Steve when she was bringing Kailani up to Connecticut for the first time. So everything is starting to feel familiar to her while I’m still experiencing everything for the first time. However, by the end of this week we will have crossed our wake and everything will be familiar to the both of us. We have a dock hand waiting at slip A-17 to grab the lines from Tracy and soon we are all secured with electric hooked up also. We will spend the remainder of the short afternoon preparing for Matt, Katie and their two children to show up at 4:30pm. I take the long walk around the entire marina to enter the marina office while Tracy hitches a ride with the dock hand who showed up using one of the marina’s tenders. After a short wait by Tracy, I arrive on foot and we walk up the stairs to the office and pay for our evening’s stay and a bag of ice. The dock hand offers to return us to our slip so the ice doesn’t melt and we immediately say yes to his offer. We are far from the office, but directly in front of the marina pool, so we can watch if there’s a crowd in the pool whenever we may want to use it.
Right at 4:30pm, Matt, Katie, Jax and Elle show up for their visit and it’s instantly a big hug between Matt & me as we haven’t seen each other in at least five years. In fact, I think we haven’t seen Katie since their wedding day. So we have a great time with the visit. First thing to do with the two children is get them into the pool for some sun and fun. This works out very well as five year old Jax is a perpetual motion machine, going non-stop the entire time he’s here. Elle has fun in the pool also and once everyone is hungry, we all change into street clothes and walk about 100 yards from the boat to the KingFish Restaurant (on marina property) and select an outdoor picnic table for our meal. We are seated right next to a corn hole game with three bean bags, so guess what Jax does until the meals show up. Of course, he plays with me for a while, with Dad for a while and with Mom for a while. In the meantime, Elle tries unsuccessfully to run down the boat ramp into the river at least 4-5 times. Either Matt or Katie catch her before she gets a chance to start her sprint!
The meal is delicious, however all the games and running do not slow the children down for a minute. After dinner we walk back to Kailani and Tracy gets out the fishing pole so Jax can try his luck with the fish here in the marina. They drown shrimp for about 30 minutes and Matt & Katie determine that it’s time to get home for bed. They live about 25 minutes away from here in Ponte Vedra so Katie leaves with Elle and Matt will take Jax, however Jax asks for a few more minutes to try and catch a fish, so on they go fishing! Soon however, Matt tells Jax that they must leave and we’ll get together again sometime so he can fish some more. In fact, they’ll be coming up to CT for the first week in July to visit family, so maybe we’ll be able to get together then. Well as Matt & Jax are walking off the dock towards Matt’s car, Tracy finally latches onto a catch, so we holler to them to return and Jax comes running down the ramp, takes over the pole and reels in a nice catfish. He has a great time and we’re so glad he had the opportunity tore in a caught fish. Now they leave for real and I hope we’ll be able to get together in July when they fly up to CT. Before turning in for the night, we decide to stay another day here and go do the touristy thing tomorrow with Barry and Carol.
St Augustine really is a tourist-based city with the claim to be the oldest city in the United States as it was discovered by Spanish explorer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles on September 4th, 1565. That makes it 454 years old! So we talk with Barry & Carol and decide the best way to see the old city is by the Trolley. So we buy tickets and meet at the Trolley stop. The trolleys run continuously all day and you can get on and off at any of the 23 stops, then get back on another trolley later on. So we pool our thoughts and decide the best thing to do is ride the entire 23 stops, then decide where we want to get off for a more closer look. After we complete the circuit, we decide we want to see the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine which was funded in large part by Henry Flagler and he and some of his family are buried there. We also stop at the oldest schoolhouse in America, old fashion street colonnade shopping village and the Fountain of Youth.
Henry Flagler came here from up north and built the railroad that would run from St Augustine all the way to Key West. If you travel some of the east coast resort cities in Florida, you’ll see his name on numerous buildings and streets, etc.
We also saw, (but did not exit the trolley) the oldest tree in America. It’s a Southern Live Oak affectionately called ‘The Senator’ and it is reputed to be 600 years old! That means it was already 150 years old when St Augustine was discovered. Then we rode down one of the 5 most picturesque streets in America called Magnolia Lane. This is a tree lines street where the trees form an enclosure arch over the entire street. The only rub is that the trees are not Magnolia trees! They were replaced with Southern Live Oaks and the Spanish Moss that hangs from the branches really makes the street beautiful.
We couldn’t come to St Augustine without drinking from the Fountain of Youth, so our last stop was there and we learned that the park not only contains the fountain that Ponce de Leon discovered, but there is also a live archeological dig being conducted here with all kinds of artifacts that are teaching us more of the lifestyle and tragedy of the Timucua Indian civilization. The grounds are also home to dozens of peacocks and albino peacocks. We saw many of the peacocks open, but we could not get any of the albino peacocks to open for us. I really must admit, I don’t feel like I’ve aged since drinking from the fountain!
Back aboard Kailani, we prepare for tomorrow’s departure with our cruise plan and study of the charts, then we’re in bed a tad early since we have a seven hour cruise tomorrow.
Wednesday: We are both up ready to get off the dock and get a pump out before leaving the marina. Our plan is to be at anchorages for the next three days, so we must make sure we have enough fresh water and empty holding tanks to make it thru the week. At 9:00am we are releasing the ducklings and moving Kailani over to the fuel/pump out dock. We complete the pump out, buy a 25 pound bag of ice and we’re leaving the Camachee Cove Marina at 9:30am headed for Georgia. That’s right, today is our last day in Florida. We’ve been in Florida since January 17th when we left The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach Alabama. That’s nearly 5 months and we’ve had spectacular weather, great stops and great visits from family and friends.
The cruise today again is free of bridge openings, so there aren’t any delays in that regard, however, there are some shoaling spots to be aware of that we are fully prepared for when they occur (so we think) When we get to the paper mill in Fernandino Beach the buoys and markers show a conflicting and confusing path. The ICW has been re-routed to newer, deeper water, but some of the old channel maulers are still set in the water, so as we approach, we are not clear which ICW markers to follow. So we slow to nearly idle speed and follow the deepest water. Soon we are safely thru the area, but not before a few choice words by me, the Captain, and passing thru 7.4 feet of water.
Our destination today is Cumberland Island in Georgia. Cumberland Island is mostly un-developed and it is home to an entire civilization fo wild horses. They are completely self sufficient and feed on their own off the island’s sources. Many loopers have cruised by Cumberland Island and not spotted one horse, however, as we crossed St Mary’s Sound and were headed directly towards the southern tip of Cumberland Island, we were greeted with the sight of two wild horses right out there on the beach. It was truly spectacular and made our day to be fortunate enough to spot these two beauties. Soon we were pulling into a cove in the southern half of Cumberland Island into the Cumberland Sound Anchorage right off the Ice House Museum. We are one of probably 15 vessels in here so it’s obviously a popular anchorage.
Tracy tries her fishing prowess off the stern and, in addition to the other various fish she reels in, actually gets a ray nearly to the boat before he’s able to spit the hook out! While she’s out there she spots two dolphins swimming together which is very common and ordinary to us for this trip, however, the odd thing is that one of the dolphins is completely white! We’ve never seen an albino dolphin before. We are anchored adjacent to King’s Bay Naval Sub Base and we can see the lights of the base thru the night. Tomorrow we will pass right by this sub base and we will have to be diligent to stay in the channel or risk being pulled over by the USCG. Also, we must check with radio broadcasts for a sub entering or leaving the base as the regulations require us to maintain 500 yards of distance during the escort of the subs.
Thursday: Today’s trouble spot is Jekyll Creek and should only be traversed during a rising tide. So we need to leave this beautiful anchorage between 8:00 & 8:30am in order to pass thru with the deepest water. So Tracy is out fishing by shortly after 7:00am knowing that we would have to leave. She was really enjoying her time because she was catching some nice fish, but we both came to an agreement and split the difference for a 8:15am departure. There was no nuclear submarine traffic this morning, so we would have a clean shot past King’s Bay Submarine Base.
The ICW was very calm today between inlets, but in the four inlets we had to traverse, the winds and waves were vicious. So Kailani got rocked around a bit during the crossings of the inlets. The vessel traffic was nearly non-existent as we only got passed by 2 southbound vessels and we only had to pass 1 northbound vessel. In fact, the northbound vessel was ‘Together’ which we had passed three days ago cruising from Palm Coast to St Augustine.
Then when we pulled into our anchorage, there was a sailboat already anchored in there for a total of 4 vessels today.
We passed the anchored sailboat and searched for a spot with 8 feet of water, but it was high tide, so we looked for a spot with 15 feet of water that would be about 8 feet at low tide. We tried one spot, but the winds pushed us too close to shore as Tracy let out the 150 feet of anchor chain, so we wound it back up and moved to another spot where we found a perfect spot and dropped the anchor again and it grabbed nicely and we were all set for the night.
The whole day was filled with horsefly attacks and we knew that tonight’s anchorage would be a problem if the evening air did not send them scurrying. So Tracy went into her bag of tricks to design a suitable setup for the bug net in a location that would also be semi cool overnight since the forecast is for the temperature to only go to 74 degrees. In the past, she has strung the hammock across the Sundeck and hung the bug net aver the hammock, but tonight we’ll probably have to find a design that provides netting for both of us. If there was any breeze at all and the windows would provide ventilation, we could use the stateroom, but without any breeze, the stateroom will be too stuffy for Tracy. You’ll find out how we did in tomorrow’s blogpost.
If all goes according to planned, tonight will be our last night before we cross our wake Friday in Savannah. This has been an incredible run for us with adventure at every bend. Truly a once in a lifetime experience, but we may do it again, you never know!
Friday: We awake with great anticipation. Today we will cross our wake when we reach Thunderbolt Marine in Savannah, GA. Once again, the Ultra anchor held us right where we had stopped yesterday. This anchor was a special addition to our bag of tools and we’ve been so pleased with it’s performance. From the calmest of anchorages to the raging waters of Little Diversion Channel on the Mississippi where we had Sea Wolf and Duette rafted to us and enough timber caught on our anchor chain to start a lumber mill, our American-made Ultra anchor has held us perfectly. So at 8:00am Tracy is raising the chain and I’m at the helm taking direction from her as the chain slowly creeps thru the windlass and back into the chain locker. Soon we are cruising past the sailboat that was our overnight neighbor here in New TeaKettle Creek and out onto the ICW headed north towards Savannah.
We’ve set out departure to coincide with high tide at Hell Gate. Hell Gate is a notorious spot in Georgia for uncontrolled shoaling and it’s reputation is treacherous to say the least. We don’t want any part of Hell Gate unless it’s a few hours before high tide to full high tide. So our 8:00am departure should get us there at 2 hours before high tide which is at 2:06pm and 55 miles ahead.
The weather is cooperating today as there is calm seas and negligible winds even when we cross inlets. The dolphin activity is pretty much the usual with the exception that we come upon one area where it seems like there are 15-20 dolphins all playing in the same area and they all start heading towards Kailani as they hear and sense the presence of a vessel. We also get 3 opportunities to see rays jumping completely out of the water a good 3-4 feet before violently splashing back into the water like a sheet of plywood. There are a few more vessels today than yesterday so we have a few vessels that overtake us and a few that we overtake, but everyone today is pleasantly obeying the rules of the waterway and passing in slow mode so as to reduce wake activity. It’s always a more pleasant ride when everybody plays nice in the same sandbox!
With the ICW taking us from one inlet/sound to another, we are constantly cruising with, then against the tide. So as we cruise out of an inlet into the ICW the incoming tide pushes us to 10.0 knots, then as we approach the next inlet the incoming tide slows us to about 7.0 knots, so we average about 8.5 knots for the day and we are approaching Hell Gate at straight up noon which is 2 hours before high tide. Our plan works this time and Hell Gate doesn’t disappoint as we find less than eight feet of water in one spot, so at low tide, that would be around three feet of water! Thats the effect of the 6-7 foot tides here in Georgia.
Once past Hell Gate, we are nearly home free with about 20 more miles to go and a large body of water in front of us called Vernon River, so we take this opportunity to open her up and take care of the ‘blow by’. We run her up to 2,000 rpm’s and she’s easily making 18.5 knots. Again, we don’t see any dark smoke out the stern so either she’s burning real clean, or we’re not completing the blow by drill properly. But Kailani is already a Platinum loop vessel so who are we to say she doesn’t perform as designed!!!
The rest of today’s journey is smooth with a few no wake areas and no more trouble spots. So at 2:50pm we are pulling up to our assigned slip at Thunderbolt Marine to revel in our accomplishments. Just to make this official, as we approached the marina we intentionally cruised past the entire marina, then turned around to cruise into our slip, sort of like crossing the finish line before returning the horse to its stable after a race.
There are two other looper vessels here in the marina but only Karen Tillman aboard KA’RE-N ON is on-board, so we meet her and ask her to take some pictures of us taking the white burgee off the bow pulpit and replacing it with the brand new gold burgee signifying to all who see it that we have completed our loop and we are now ‘Gold Loopers’! Later we get a chance to meet Mike and Mary aboard Forever Friday and everyone congratulates us on our accomplishment.
This has been one year and one month of time aboard Kailani as we started last year on April 14th and completed the loop today, May 10th. We travelled 5,080 nautical miles or 5,846 statute miles. We travelled an additional 1,071 miles to get from home to Savannah, so we will add another 1,071 miles to our journey getting home, so from Chester, CT to Chester, CT we will have travelled 7,222 nautical miles or 8,310 statute miles. We’ve locked thru over 110 locks and requested bridge openings for over 50 bridges and cruised a total of 135 days on the water over the nearly 400 days for the loop. We have helped countless vessels dock safely to pay it forward for the endless help we’ve received from others whenever we pulled up to a dock. We stayed at hundreds of marinas, lock walls and anchorages along the way and each is a special memory, but the best memories will always be the people of the Great Loop. We’ve been handed car keys from strangers, been invited into peoples homes, shared meals and miles with hundreds of new lifelong friends from all over this wonderful country and Canada. The experience of this adventure is hard to match anywhere else in life. Our relationship is put to the test, our skills are put to the test, our planning is put to the test and our trust in each other and fellow boaters is put to the test all while being in sight of land, for 99% of the journey. But it all works out safely in the end and the personal rewards are hard to describe. There is great weather, there is extremely bad weather, there are periods when the vessel works flawlessly and there are days when she doesn’t want to work at all. Everything culminates in relief and an extremely great sense of accomplishment when the crew and vessel ‘cross their wake’.
We walked downtown to Tubby’s Restaurant for a celebratory dinner and sat on the patio eating while listening to a three piece band entertain the crowd of diners. After dinner we walked along the waterfront towards Kailani to got ready for another departure tomorrow as we start our journey back home for the summer.
This is the last entry in our loop blog. We will provide updates on our cruise travels via Facebook for the remainder of the cruise. We want to thank all followers of this blog for their continued interest in our adventures and prayers for our safety. We are very grateful for all the wonderful people who’ve taken a special interest in our dream. We’re glad to have provided this blog so all of you could follow us along the way and we hope that in some small way, we were able to provide stories that made you feel as if you were right alongside us aboard Kailani during the journey.